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10 Do’s and Don’ts of Successful Co-Parenting After Divorce

Are you struggling with Co-Parenting after divorce?  If you are, it is no surprise. The issues within your marriage most likely got worse over time. You may have been relieved to uncouple, distance and divorce. Co-Parenting, however, draws you closer again.

Co-Parenting often brings up the anger, pain, frustration, and bitterness of the divorce. It can bring up financial issues, emotional issues and seemingly unresolvable differences about raising the kids. You hear your Ex-Spouse reacting to you in the same old way and your feelings respond. You may feel critical and judgmental, put down and shamed, guilty if you were the leave-taker, or jealous if your Ex-Spouse is doing better than you.

As example, Robin and Paul wanted to Co-Parent after divorce. They had agreed on joint legal and residential custody of the twins, Anna and Isabelle. To be successful, this path needed a great deal of interaction and co-operation.

Unfortunately, Paul kept treating Anna in the same old way. He started blaming her for any behavior problems of the 10-year old twins. He complained if they came to his house with a missing sock or other small item. He attempted to push Robin aside regarding the school. He did not inform her of scheduled doctor visits.

Robin reacted back in frustration. Internally she felt invalidated. Her sense of her own significance faltered around Paul. In defense, she judged Paul back for his criticisms of her and for his parenting style. It felt like their marriage all over again. As this Vicious Cycle continued, their Co-Parenting totally broke down. The children developed increased behavioral problems. They started acting up in school.

Can you relate? All going smoothly with your Co-Parenting or running into roadblocks?

Robin and Paul each felt driven to go to family court to change their agreement. Instead and at the last minute, they elected to go to Co-Parenting Sessions. They learned both valuable information and valuable skills. Their Co-Parenting immensely improved, all to the benefit of their children. Some of what they learned is represented below.

1.    Valuable Co-Parenting Information

In this part of the Co-Parenting sessions, Robin and Paul learned about the mindset of successful Co-parenting. They reviewed the benefits of successful Co-Parenting for their kids as well as the four key components of successful Co-Parenting.

·      What is Co-Parenting?

In Co-Parenting, both parents play an active role in their children’s lives. When this is successful, children gain a sense of stability, closeness and security that is needed for their health and development. In general, these children do not suffer as many adverse effects from divorce, as compared to children caught up in ongoing parental conflict. (Note that Co-Parenting is not recommended if there is domestic violence or substance abuse).

·      The Mindset of Successful Co-Parenting

It is critical for each Parent to focus on the needs and well-being of the children. That means pushing old hurts and current resentments about the now defunct marital relationship to the background. That means not letting yourself get triggered into reacting in the same old way when your former Spouse ‘pushes your buttons’. Instead, learn to push your old reactions onto the back-burner and focus on the needs of your children. That is the mindset of successful Co-Parenting – easier said than done.

·      Benefits of Co-Parenting

Co-Parenting research points to the following: It is not divorce itself that causes children of divorce, in general, to have more emotional and behavioral problems, lower self-esteem and poorer academic performance. Rather it is the quality of Co-Parenting after divorce that is proving to be a bigger factor than the divorce itself.

Benefits of Successful Co-Parenting for the children include:

·      More consistent feelings of safety and security

·      Better well-being, including emotional and behavioral health

·      Higher academic performance

·      Higher self-esteem

·      Enhanced problem-solving ability

·      Better intimate relationships in adulthood

·      Four Key Components of Co-parenting

Teubert & Pinquart (*2010) in their research isolated four key components of Successful Co-Parenting. To be successful at Co-Parenting, former Spouses need to work at mastering each component.

·      Heightened Cooperation – Cooperating involves maintaining that positive Co-Parenting mindset, really listening to each other, and a willingness to communicate and compromise.

·      Good Agreements About Care and Education – Here the two Ex-Spouses need to focus on the children and their needs while really listening to each other. The Ex-Spouses need to talk out differences until a compromise that both can live with is reached. It is good to set up objective criteria and gather all facts before making for a major decision together.

The two Ex-Spouses need to make sure that they are not being swayed by outside voices – of parents or friends – but rather make their own joint decisions.

In terms of care, the two Ex-Spouses need to set up routines so that children feel the consistency from one household to another and feel secure in terms of what to expect.

·      Excellence in Conflict Management

Ex-Spouses need to put their anger on the back-burner and instead focus on the well-being of their children. They need to find ways to lower their judgments of each other and to look for solutions when they differ. Not an easy task but necessary for the children’s sake. Most importantly, they need to make sure that the children are not pulled into their conflict. No message sending using the children!

·      Lessening of Triangulation

Triangulation means an Ex-Spouse pulling a child to their side against the other Ex-Spouse. It can be done by telling children negatives about the other parent or even by putting the Ex-Spouse down in front of the child. Another triangulation strategy is withholding love if the other parent is favored or comes closer to the child.

2.    Valuable Co-Parenting Skills

Once they absorbed the above important information about Co-Parenting, Paul and Robin needed to learn some new skills.

They worked on communication and negotiations skills, as well as how to maintain a positive mindset. They learned to sees things from their Ex-Spouse’s perspective to make joint decision-making easier. They learned to detach from their anger and judgements and not let their personal animosities bleed into their interactions around the children. Instead they worked on staying cooperative and objective. They learned stress-reduction techniques when they got triggered into old patterns by their Ex-Spouse.

Learning these skills made a big difference in Paul and Robin’s Co-Parenting relationship. Instead of the Vicious Cycle, they now experienced a Cooperation Cycle. They made these changes and were willing to put in the hard work for the sake of the children.

Although you may find it far-fetched for your Ex-Spouse to make such changes, remember the deeper motivation is always the well-being of the children.

As part of the Co-Parenting Sessions, Paul and Robin memorized the below 10 Do’s and Don’t of successful Co-Parenting after divorce. They found that it was easier to Co-Parent successfully when they had these guidelines to consult.

The 10 Does and Don’ts of Successful Co-Parenting After Divorce

Robin and Paul went home with a list of 10 Do’s and Don’t of Successful Co-Parenting after Divorce. This list helped them to remember all they had learned in Co-Parenting therapy.

1.  Don’t talk your Ex-Spouse down to your kids.

Do talk positively about your Ex-Spouse whenever possible.

Talking your Ex-Spouse down to your kids is a form of triangulation.

2.  Don’t side with a child against your Ex-Spouse.

Do talk privately to your Ex-Spouse about how to handle your child’s behaviors.

Siding with your child against your Ex-Spouse is a form of triangulation.

3.  Don’t argue in front of the children.

Do stay calm in front of your kids and deal with conflict privately.

High levels of conflict impact your children negatively.

4.  Don’t help your children to ignore the visitation schedule.

Do create a Co-Parenting schedule and stick to it.

This point reinforces ‘Good Agreements About Care and Education’.

5.  Don’t let your children submit to an abusive parent.

Do seek professional help.
This makes sense on many levels.

6.  Don’t break agreements with your Ex-Spouse.

Do respect all agreements. Renegotiate as needed.

This point encourages high levels of cooperation.

7.  Don’t react in same old way to your Ex-Spouse when you get triggered.

Do learn to detach and choose a more useful way of reacting.

This point encourages high levels of cooperation and low levels of conflict.

8.  Don’t deviate from the guidelines when you believe your Ex-Spouse is wrong or being harmful to the children.

Do negotiate your differences in private and seek professional help if needed.

This point reinforces ‘Good Agreements About Care and Education’.

9.  Don’t withhold information about the children from your Spouse.

Do create something like a joint Google calendar. Communicate with your Spouse frequently about events.

10. Don’t withhold your concerns about one of your children.

Do learn to communicate effectively with your Ex-Spouse about all aspects of your children.

This point reinforces heightened Cooperation and ‘Good Agreements About Care and   Education’.

Summary – To engage in excellent Co-Parenting requires much cooperation. It requires letting go of angry reactions to differences between you and your Ex-Spouse. Also, when Co-Parenting you will need to learn to put aside resentments from the past.

Excellent Co-Parenting necessitates good, frequent communication and the ability to negotiate differences, rather than flair up in old negative patterns of reactivity. Excellent Co-Parenting is not easy, but the rewards of your children’s healthy development make it worthwhile.

(* Research: Daniela Teubert & Martin Pinquart (2010) The Association Between Coparenting and Child Adjustment: A Meta-Analysis, Parenting, 10:4, 286-307)


Diane Kramer

Dr. Diane Kramer, Suffolk County Divorce Mediator, Psychologist and Co-Parenting Expert, is partners with her husband, Fred Klarer, Divorce Lawyer and Divorce Mediator, in the Long Island Center for Divorce Mediation. The Long Island Center for Divorce Mediation offers comprehensive divorce mediation services at reasonable prices at two offices in… MORE >

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